The standard G42 2-Series isn’t the prettiest starting point, lacking the grace of its F87 predecessor. On top of that base, BMW heaped an abundance of aggressive lines, and kidney grilles that are - while smaller than the M3/M4’s - still a bit too big, combined with weird, square intakes in the front bumper.
Somehow, this all works much better in the metal and plastic. The bright, eye-catching Zandvoort Blue finish of our test car probably helps, as does nearly a year passing since the shock of those initial press pack pictures. And in any case, you quickly forget what the outside looks like once you slide behind the wheel and go for a drive, partly because of what sits just to your left - a gear stick.
It’s a rare treat to drive a brand-new performance car with a decent amount of power and a manual gearbox. So much so that the M2’s manual transmission being a bit crap is entirely excusable. This doesn’t come as a surprise - the ‘box used by the M2 goes back several generations, and it exhibits the same rubbery, not especially precise shift it always has done.
The pedals have decent enough spacing for rev-matching fun, but they are offset, which does feel weird initially. But once you’re used to that and the mushy shift, it’s a real joy to chop through the ratios the old-fashioned way.
It makes the twin-turbocharged inline-six all the more enjoyable. It feels like it’s delivering just a little too much power for the car’s own good, which is exactly what you want in something like this. 454bhp and 406b ft of torque in a reasonably compact car make for a car that feels brutish and just a touch silly.
Full-throttle applications will make the rear end go all squirrely, but this isn’t a wayward thing - those 285mm wide Michelin Pilot Sport 4S boots generally do a good job of transferring all that torque to the road surface.
The chassis feels a step up from the last car. The new M2 is more tied down and stable, partly thanks to increases in track width and wheelbase. Its steering is sweeter, and even offers a bit of feedback, including the odd kickback through the wheel. The front end is mega, too, biting nicely even when you think your entry speed demands are just a little too lofty. It certainly doesn’t feel like a 1,700kg car when changing direction.
A firm low-speed ride makes you worry the M2 is going to crash over every little imperfection in the road surface with a bone-shattering lack of grace, but on quicker roads, it settles nicely, soaking up lumps and bumps while keeping the body impeccably level in the corners. The caveat is that you need to leave it in the softest suspension mode - unless you’re on a silky smooth bit of asphalt, the firmer option from the adaptive dampers gives too choppy a ride.
We’ve talked a bit about how this car compares to the old M2 (and will do again soon - sorry), but it also has me in mind of a much older M car: the E46 M3. Where the 3-series has grown over the years, the 2-series is a much closer match in terms of dimensions to the old E46. The M2’s ethos seems closer to the E46 M3’s than the modern, G80 M3/G82 M4, too, given how complex, powerful and heavy those cars have become. And in the UK, the M3/M4 are auto-only.
So is the M2 a reincarnation of the E46 M3? Yes and no. It also has me in mind of the old 1M, whose boosty twin-turbo inline-six also made for a brutish-feeling car. Perhaps it’s a bit of both vehicles.
To foist the last M2 back into the conversation into the mix, the new one presents a dilemma - if you owned an M2 Competition, is it worth upgrading? Awkwardly, it’s not a slam-dunk decision. The new one is better in a lot of ways, not just for its chassis, but also its cabin, which feels a whole lot more luxurious and tech-laden.
But the new S58 engine just isn’t as exciting as the old S55. It doesn’t sound as aggressive and lacks that top-end rush that ends in an aggressively hard limiter. Rev the S58 out, and it feels like it’s just giving up during the final few hundred RPM. At least it sounds better here than in the M3/M4 - it doesn’t seem to have the same fake noise piped in through the speakers.
Lean more on the punchy mid-range, though, and focus on the chassis, and the M2 will reap abundant rewards. And these are rewards you can enjoy without parting with too much money, as the M2 is something of a bargain if you look at what else is out there.
The starting price is £62,420, which is nearly £20,000 less than an M3 or M4. Take that money to a Porsche dealer, and as fancy as you’ll get is a 718 Cayman S with the disappointing flat-four, less luggage capacity and the ability to carry only one passenger. Oh, and adjusted for inflation, it’s miles cheaper than the E46 M3 was when it was new. Let’s just gloss over the fact BMW makes you pay £545 more for the M2 if you want it with a manual gearbox.
So whether it’s a reborn E46 M3 or a new 1M, a worthwhile upgrade to an M2 Comp or not, it doesn’t really matter. If we’re measuring in smiles per £, the M2 verges on unbeatable in terms of new cars around right now.